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Victims of their Own Ideology

Matt Yglesias is writing about the Clinton Legacy. I wanted to write about this some time ago, but never really got around to it.

Jack Balkin, building on Nick Confessore's observations, had a powerful post on "Free Lunch Conservatism" back in January. He claims that the government spending supported by Bush is designed to "satisfy core Republican constituencies and help keep him and the Republican party in power."

Fortunately for both Democrats and good governance, Bush and Rove are bungling their power grab. The demise of Gingrich and the 96 Clinton victory taught Republicans that government spending was popular. It didn't teach them why it's popular, though: people like good services.

Republicans have never believed that government programs were capable of providing good services. They never repudiated their critiques of government spending, which are usually nothing more than elevating marginal objections to fatal flaws through apocryphal anecdotes. They continued to think: Government programs are slush funds for special interest groups, avenues for graft, and tools for the accumulation of power. They spent twenty five years making these arguments.

And it shows. Their Medicare prescription drug benefit is a crass attempt to buy the votes of old people, free money for AdvancePCS and its ilk, and the supposed linchpin for the permanent Republican majority. But they botched it. They weren't worried about making it a good program, they weren't worried about making sure people could use it, or even understand it. The attendant scandals have turned the biggest new entitlement in a generation into political baggage.

Clinton convinced conservatives that government programs were popular. But he never convinced them that they were good.


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